Out on drive in the African bush one may see hundreds, if not thousands of trees that have fallen. Trees ring-barked by elephants, disabling them from receiving nutrients to vital parts or trees that have aged naturally or succumbed to lightning strikes delivered by a summer storm. All of these trees have lost their green appearance and died. They have become skeletons of their previous existence.

Yet even though they are dead they can still possess so much life. Small mammals and reptiles seek refuge amongst the broken branches and trunk. Birds bore holes and utilize them for nesting, and from the photographer’s point of view they become an aid in achieving spectacular images of predators perched up on their trunks.

Dead trees lack foliage and can provide very clean photographs with little distractions, whatever the subject may be.

Leopards in particular represent the pinnacle of a dead-tree photographic sighting. All the rangers have specific trees around Londolozi where we dream about finding a leopard. Some of these dreams come true and others remain unrealized. I have been very fortunate to find leopards in dead trees, trees that myself and others dream about. Often when returning to camp after game drive, you mention to your colleagues that you were lucky to find a particular leopard in a certain area and even luckier to see it climb a tree, you might get the jealous comment of “…Don’t tell me she was in that dead tree…”

Enjoy the following scenes on the photographic potential of dead trees…

A vantage point in a dead Weeping Boer Bean with no facial obstruction allows the Ingrid dam female to look out for any potential threat that may harm her cub.

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She is occasionally seen around the far north west corner of Londolozi, and is generally quite relaxed around vehicles.

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Ingrid Dam 4:4 Female

Lineage
Unknown
Identification
markings
Timeline
9 stories
Territory
maps
Parents
0 known
Litters
1 known
Offspring
known
Siblings
known
Videos
playlist

A dead knobthorn that hangs over a waterhole near camp provides a safe haven for these grooming baboons.

One of the Tatowa female’s cub stares back at us from a vantage point while comfortably settled on a dead marula.

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Tatowa 3:3 Female
2012 - present

The Tatowa female was one of a litter of three females born in early 2012 to the Ximpalapala female of the north.

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Tatowa 3:3 Female

Lineage
Short Tail Female
Identification
markings
Timeline
15 stories
Territory
maps
Parents
2 known
Litters
1 known
Offspring
known
Siblings
known
Videos
playlist

The ubiquitous tree agama, who as its name suggests, spends the vast majority of its time in an arboreal setting, whether the tree be alive or dead.. Photograph by Simon Smit

The Tamboti female on a fallen marula. Sometimes it seems that leopards climb trees just for the heck of it. Photograph by James Tyrrell

A golden-tailed woodpecker creates a cloud of sawdust as she taps away at the branch of a tree, foraging for food. Dead trees may still contain insects and grubs under their bark; a treasure trove for insectivorous birds. Photograph by Amanda Ritchie

The Ingrid dam female climbed this dead Schotia tree before her cub thought it was a good idea to join her mother on the highest point.

The open grasslands of the south western parts of Londolozi are relatively flat and therefore a fallen over tree is usually the best vantage point for the resident male cheetah

The Ingrid dam female’s cub rests on a dead tree while staring back at her mother a few meters above her.

Vultures, like this whitebacked individual, will invariably roost or land in dead trees. Trees that are still living and still have all their small branches and foliage are simply too cluttered for birds with large wingspans to land in.

A male cheetah climbs a dead knob thorn to scan his surrounds before the light fades for the evening. Photograph by James Tyrrell.

Wahlberg’s eagles – amongst other eagle species – also favour dead trees to sit in due to their unobstructed landing potential. Photograph by James Tyrrell

Comfortably settled on a dead branch, the Ingrid dam female’s cub thought that on top of her mother was possibly a better position.

A rock monitor peers out from his hole in a dead leadwood. While large predators often display themselves conspicuously on dead trees, the smaller creatures use them as hiding places. Photograph by James Tyrrell

A clean background is often achievable with dead trees. No branches or leaves obstruct the view of this male cheetah.

Although not as great climbers as leopards, lions may venture up fallen over trees. The angle of the tree makes the climb easier and the vantage point is ideal when scanning for large prey items among the long grasses of summer. In this case the Sparta pride was simply in a playful mood. Photograph by James Tyrrell.

The Tamboti female and her cub. A herd of impala over a ridge in the distance was only able to be seen by utilizing the height of this dead marula.

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Tamboti 4:3 Female
2007 - present

The Tamboti female inhabits the south-eastern sections of Londolozi, having a large part of her territory along the Maxabene Riverbed.

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Tamboti 4:3 Female

Lineage
Sunsetbend
Identification
markings
Timeline
47 stories
Territory
maps
Parents
1 known
Litters
3 known
Offspring
known
Siblings
known
Videos
playlist

Involved Leopards

Tamboti 4:3 Female

Tamboti 4:3 Female

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About the Author

Alex Jordan

Field Guide

Born in Cape Town, Alex grew up on a family wine estate in Stellenbosch. Spending much of his young life outdoors, Alex went on many a holiday into Southern Africa’s national parks and wild areas. After finishing high school, he completed a number ...

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7 Comments

on Can a Dead Tree Still Be a Tree of Life?

Join the conversationJoin the conversation

Joanne Wadsworth

The blog is filled with exceptional images and especially enjoy seeing leopards lounging off a branch taking a moment respite.

Marinda Drake

Stunning images Alex. Nothing goes to waste in nature. Even if we think it is just a dead tree it gets utilised by so many creatures big and small.

Denise Vouri

What a fun and interesting blog! It’s always fantastic to see leopards perched in their favorite trees, but I enjoyed seeing the lesser seen creatures who inhabit these same dead trees. One never knows what may pop out of a crevasse in one of these trees. BTW, nice photos as well v

Tim Barton

Alex, your evocative descriptions and images always bring me back to Londolozi! Thanks for keeping me current and informed.

Wendy Hawkins

Alex once again your images are outstanding! The Ingrid Dam cub is a stunning young leopard & me thinks going to be as impressive as her mother. Thank you for sharing these images of animals in dead trees – I just love it 🙂

Callum Evans

That woodpecker shot is pretty unique and all of those leopard and cheetah photos are just sensational (though my favourite is the first one of the Tamboti female)

Susan Strauss

I was just thinking about dead trees and how they still give so much to us. And then this blog!!

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